UNITED NATIONS — The United States and seven European countries marked Friday's 12th anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Georgia with a call to Moscow to withdraw forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and allow medical evacuations and aid deliveries especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The western nations said after a closed briefing to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday by Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca that Russia's continuing military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and its recognition of "the so-called independence of the regions" violates Georgia's territorial integrity and undermines its sovereignty.

Georgia made a botched attempt to regain control of its breakaway province of South Ossetia during the presidency of Mikhail Saakashvili, sparking the war with Russia that began on Aug. 7, 2008. Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia as well as the breakaway province of Abkhazia and set up military bases there.

The U.S. and European nations said in a joint statement that they are "extremely concerned" about Russia's "intensification of the so-called `borderization process' over the past year, including during the global COVID-19 pandemic."

They said Russia's actions further divide communities and put at risk "the health and lives of the conflict-affected population."

"Throughout this already challenging time, the de-facto authorities exercising effective control over the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have continued the practice of arbitrary detentions along the administrative boundary lines," the statement said. "De facto South Ossetian authorities have repeatedly denied emergency medical evacuations and incoming humanitarian aid."

The U.S., Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Norway and Ireland also expressed concern about "the ongoing disinformation campaign by Russia about the pandemic and related health issues."

"These acts prolong the conflict, threaten peace and stability, interfere with the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and negatively impact the health and safety of people across Georgia, destabilizing the region as a whole," the eight nations said.

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky responded, tweeting that the joint statement is "A beautiful fiction. But only a fiction."

He made no mention of the pandemic but said Georgia's "aggression which triggered all the problems for this country & the region was officially confirmed in 2009 by the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the conflict."

"As a result of former Georgian leadership's reckless policy unscrupulously encouraged by the US and some of its satellites 2 new independent states have emerged on the global map and this is the reality that cannot be ignored," Polyansky tweeted.

"Politicians promoting selfish geopolitical interests managed so far to drive a wedge between our countries but they failed to do so between our 2 peoples," he added. "Discussions like today attempt to undermine the ongoing process of reconciliation of Russia and Georgia."

The U.S. and Europeans called again on Russia to fully implement agreements in August 2008 to withdraw its armed forces to positions before hostilities began, and to establish an international security mechanism.

Representatives of Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the United States have held talks in Geneva since October 2008 to address the consequences of the Georgia conflict under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union and the United Nations.

The U.S. and Europeans expressed regret at Russia's "lack of commitment" in the Geneva talks on the topic of refugees and Georgians internally displaced, and reiterated support for human rights, including for those forcibly displaced during the conflict to return safely to their homes.